"Master Dayton" might be humorous, (I mean if Ph.Ds are called "Doctors," shouldn't MFAs be called "Masters?") but in all seriousness I have made a living freelance writing and after several years I have tons of information I want to share to help out my fellow writers, regardless of age, experience, goals, situation, or background. This blog isn't pretty-but it will help if real freelance writing information is what you want.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Freelance Writing College: The 4 Year Writing Plan

Write Online in College

For some reason, a good chunk of the people who find this freelance writing blog are college students interested in freelance writing. Actually, this is great. I started shortly out of college, and in fact put myself through graduate school and lifted myself out of homelessness through freelance writing. While I was planning on this post being a relatively short update, especially since it's 1:39 a.m. (I know, I know, that should be early for a writer - but I'm a creative writer, too, so 29 years old has seen a lot of mileage on the wheels, LOL), but this is one freelance writer who believes in caffeine, loves to help other people, and is tired of working on everything that actually makes me money from my writing, so the size of this blog post will be a race between how tired I am versus how long I can ramble. For anyone who has followed this freelance writing blog closely, you know how long a post that could mean :)

But I digress. If you're a beginning freelance writer, or thinking about becoming a freelance writer, or are starting college and this is the first time the idea has even hit you, great. This post is going to lay out a general 4 year plan for becoming a full time online freelance writer, while building up a solid passive or residual writing income that can help set you up and take care of you for life. One reason I'm passionate about helping college students become writers is that many of these online opportunities didn't exist when I went to college. Heck, when I started college Yahoo! and Netscape were your two main choices for search engines, and AOL was relevant - that tells you how much things have changed online in general, much less in the Internet freelance writing world. But if I was starting out now, there is no reason I couldn't use the free Internet access and the technology available, and most importantly: 4 years of relative security and plenty of "free time" to set up a freelance writing career and enough passive income to make the rest of my life much easier . . . if not get to a point where I could outright semi-retire.

So instead of making 20 more posts that touch on bits and pieces of why I think any University student looking to freelance write part time for money would be an idiot not to use the time and resources to their advantages, I'm going to make a monster post outlining the very basics of a four year plan (and even if you're a sophomore, junior, or senior this plan can at least work as a blue print to get you started on your writing career) to help young adults earn the security that an established passive income and online writing career can offer them. Hopefully this post will also be a call to action to anyone reading it for why they should get started freelance writing right now!

And before I get started, one last warning to people on a schedule right now: I can tell already in just warming up that this freelance writing blog post is going to be LONG...in fact I'm feeling that this one is probably going to blow away my reader favorite and classic rant on why I'm not ashamed to be a freelance writer, at least in terms of words, and that blog post was over 2,450 words long not including comments. Although, in risking being a disappointment, this blog post probably won't come up with nearly as good a subtitle as that lengthy entertaining blog rant did. "With all due respect, my critics can bite me." Wrote it, forgot about it, and now it's cracking me up, so don't say that writers don't have a sense of humor. Back to the point of long freelance writing blog posts: if you need to bookmark this or e-mail yourself a copy of the URL, do it and get back when you have plenty of time to mull it all over.

Otherwise, this 4 year college student freelance writing plan is going to start with a few assumptions that are based on a lot of my fears, trip ups, and hesitations when I first got started:

1) I'm assuming you're a true beginner who has no clue at all about how to break into freelance writing.

2) I'm assuming as a college student that you can find a couple hours a day minimum on average (and let's be real - I got through college on about 4 hours of sleep a night for 3.5 years while working full time, so there are always options to find more time) to do some work, but understand that some weeks will be better than others.

3) I'm assuming that your need for money now isn't so great as to demand a full time job. If that is the case, then this will be a much harder time line to implement, but it's still worth fighting for.

4) I'm assuming you're willing to work. If dreaming about earning money or spending 4 years in information overload learning to make money writing is your idea of working, then this plan won't work. In the end, you have to put in the elbow grease.

5) I'm assuming your interest is in writing and you don't really understand the difference between freelance writing, AdSense writing, and Internet marketing.

6) I'm assuming that skill levels vary, and you may or may not be good enough to be an upper tier freelance writer and thus grow past all of this very quickly, or that you may or may not be good enough marketer of your skills to get paid what you're worth. Or you may not even know if you're good enough. That's fine, that's why I'm going with the assumption that most of the people reading this can be okay to average writer, without marketing skills. Because I can relate heavily to that.

Start Writing in Year 1

The first year of my freelance writing plan (and this is the same way I would tell my freshman self to get started is somehow I was young again) is one that can overwhelm many people because of information overload. There is a lot of freelance writing and make money online information out there. A lot of it is good. Even more of it is donkey manure. Even if you stick to the good freelance writing online information, the problem is that you could easily find so many bogs to read that you never get any work done. This was the biggest mistake I made in starting a writing career. Don't wait!

Yes, there is plenty to learn about writing for a living and making money online, especially if you're aiming for writing online for residual income. But no worries, because I've read the good stuff and the crap, and I'll tell you who to follow in a moment. There is a ton to learn about writing online, but you can't win a game you're not even in. If you don't have any writing online, you can't make any money. That's all there is to it.

So for year one, you're going to sign up for Constant-Content, eHow, Associated Content, Squidoo, HubPages, Xomba, and InfoBarrel. I know, you're already intimidated, but there's no reason to be. Some of these you only use sometimes, or only for a specific purpose. A couple of these sites you'll use to learn how to write online, and then all but leave them later for the sites that will really pay you in the long run. Don't worry about it. I'll explain how to use each. Along the way you will also eventually want to start setting up some free blogger blogs. Nobody should be intimidated by that step,

HubPages is especially a big one, because that is the easiest way I've found to quickly get approved for the Google AdSense program, as well as for becoming an affiliate for Amazon.com. Both of these are crucial to any future passive income plans you have online. Once you're approved for these programs, you can use AdSense based income sites like Xomba and InfoBarrel.

Early on, getting work out there is more important than doing things perfectly, so write. Make writing and working a habit that you refuse to break. HubPages and Squidoo lenses can always be edited later. Blogs can always be altered. New articles can be written that easily outrank or replace the old. But you can't make a single penny or learn a single thing from experience if you don't start freelance writing right off the bat. A professor once told me "Writers write. If you don't write, you're not a writer." The same idea applies to anyone who wants to be a freelance online writer. You have to write online. It sounds simple, but many would be freelancers get stuck here before they ever even get started.

Try to make a goal of writing 20 decent quality HubPages of 500+ words as quickly as possible. There's no reason this can't easily be done within a month even assuming you're only working an hour a day, or even less. If your hub is 1,000+ words, then all the better. But first and foremost, get some stuff out there.

In addition to these hubs, write one how to article a day and publish at eHow. Coming up with one article a day shouldn't be hard at all, and if you have an eHow article that relates to a hub, or vice-versa, link them together.

In that first month I would also say write one InfoBarrel article for every hub, and have those articles link to your HubPages hub. This "linking" might be basic, but you will have to learn about the basics of SEO and when all is said and done, if you want people to find your stuff online you have to rank at the top of Google. To rank at the top of Google, you need good backlinks. Do this over time, and you'll speed up the process of earning a full time passive writing income online.

When you have an idea for an article you would like to write, and not a one page web page, then take a look at submitting your original freelance written article to Constant-Content. Only send your best articles to this website as the editors are very strict. If you can consistently write articles that pass editorial judgment here, then you don't need to have any doubts about your ability to make money freelance writing online. This site will also force you to learn how to value your work and set prices that make it worth your time to write the articles.

Associated Content is a site I like for absolute novice online writers for three main reasons:
  1. It's fairly easy to get up front payment for original articles, and while the pay is very low, breaking the psychological barrier of your first online sale can be huge.
  2. You get paid per view. Once again, while the pay is low, this at least begins to set you up to see some basic passive income each and every month.
  3. Once you learn about Internet Marketing, SEO, and article marketing, AC works well to post "display only" articles that you're using elsewhere. These might only get minor traffic, but you're still getting paid for the views, and I have been surprised in the past about how much direct traffic I get for my AC articles.
As a side note, if you are interested in making money sports writing online, it's hard to do without a sponsor, but AC is a good place to post non evergreen sports articles. This is a decent way to get some up front payments and some residuals, especially for online sports writers who just do it as a hobby and see the writing as just a side thing.

Once you get even remotely decent as an online content writer, you'll outgrow most of AC other than maybe #3 or the very occasional sports related article (articles during the bowl season of college football can be very profitable if you do them right), but it's not a bad place to break the early psychological barriers to "becoming an online college writer."

Xomba is a site that allows social bookmarking of any article or site, and it also allows you to write original articles. All AdSense on these pages are split 50/50, and I recommend using Xomba to bookmark all of your hubs, blogs, eHow articles, AC articles, and InfoBarrel articles. Try to include a summary of 100 words, using your keywords to make sure the Google ads match. You can earn AdSense from these bookmarks, while also increasing your online presence with backlinks.

Squidoo gives you more options in creating a web page, getting traffic, and getting links to your other pages or articles. This is a tool that is better for Internet Marketing than pure online freelance writing, but the tiered system does offer another source of revenue, and Squidoo allows you to make pages more bent towards products and affiliate programs, which is something that comes in very useful over the 4 year plan.

For the first semester of getting your online writing career started, and for some maybe even the entire first year, those are all the sites that you will need to begin to get going. This doesn't mean that there aren't more options, more sites, other steps, etc, but as far as getting started in the beginning, and especially with laying a foundation for passive income, this combination of sites is more than enough, because in the first year you will also need to learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), using AdSense to build passive income, and the many many skills that it takes to make it as a writer. This education is going to take time early on, and so different people might want to take this plan at different speeds.

If you are really interested in the freelance writing to the point where you want to make a part time income right now during the college years, then during the second semester I'll add two things:
  1. Sign up for Guru.com and shell out the money for a year long subscription. Elance is a similar site, but I've found it easier to get started on Guru. Expect the first three months to be very slow until you get a reputation built up and sales from previous jobs on the site. But once you get going, the income and jobs you get can snowball. Guru will force you to learn how to send a good query letter and how to pitch yourself. You can't make it as a true freelance writer without these critical marketing skills.
  2. Apply for Demand Studios. If you have a large collection of eHow articles, this becomes very easy since DS is eHow's parent company. You don't get passive income or royalties from DS articles, but there are tons of articles for $7.50, $15, or even $20 an article, which means you can write online for a decent amount of weekly income as long as you put the hours in.
If the residual writing income has you intrigued and earning actual part time income right away from writing isn't a necessity, then you can skip these steps and aim yourself more at Internet Marketing as you continue to hone your online writing skill set.

So in summary: 1 eHow article a day, 20+ hubs a month, 20+ InfoBarrel articles a month, a few CC articles in your spare time, and a lot of Xomba bookmarks. Some occasional AC articles and Squidoo lenses are good, but not as important since the long term returns are more likely going to be lower. This sounds like a lot of work, but really two hours a day would be more than enough to take care of all of this, especially once you get comfortable. Yes, you will want to learn about backlinks and you will definitely help yourself out by spending more time working to get your articles and hubs (and blogs, if you were really ambitious) ranked higher in Google, but the point I want to make is that getting a sheer solid bulk of work out is not hard at all.

If you followed these averages, in one year you would have 365 eHow articles, 240 hubs, 240+ InfoBarrel articles, not to mention over 800 pages on Xomba w/ your AdSense on them. Even if you were absolutely terrible at keyword research (or did none at all), had tons of misses, and didn't hit a single "home run," even if you did nothing extra to help yourself out, in the ridiculously worst case scenario ((in other words I'm skewing the results to be the ultimate pessimist)) you would still be looking at over $400 a month in passive income, in my opinion. Now maybe you would have less, I think the majority of you would make more. If you were serious about this as a career, perhaps a lot more. But that would be $400 a month, every month, that you know you're going to make even if you don't work. See where the time is on your side argument comes in?

And that's not including actual money for content work you might be doing for Demand Studios, Elance, Constant-Content, Associated Content, or Guru.com. It's also assuming you haven't set up a single AdSense blog for yourself.

But I can't stress enough to learn true SEO and Internet Marketing because this is the key to making permanent residual income online.

So what else should you do year one? Well you're in college, so study. Here are various resources I am more than happy to recommend, as I know these are all completely legit. That said, don't spend so much time with this information that you don't get your writing done. If you find yourself procrastinating, help yourself out this way: make the blog reading your homework assignment, but one you're not allowed to do until your articles are done for the day.

Approved Online Freelance Writing & Marketing Resources:

Free Passive Income & Internet Marketing:
Lissie's Passive Income Online
Allyn Hane's Everything You Need to Know About Backlinks
Ben K Make Money with SEO (read what this guy does for work and you will have NO excuses for not getting started)
Make Money on HubPages best and most detailed hub I've seen on this subject.

Freelance Writing Blogs Worth Following:
Poe War Writing Guide is a fantastic novice online writer's resource
Bianca Raven's Writing Blog
Monika Mundell-Freelance Writer
Master Dayton Freelance Writer (you didn't think I'd leave myself of the list, did you?)

Other Resources
The Keyword Academy - this is not for true beginners, because it is a paid membership. $1 for a trial month, then $33 a month after that. Is it worth it? Absolutely - but only if you have the basics down and know that you are in the Internet Marketing and passive income business for the long haul. Until you know this for sure, you're better off staying with free resources for as far as those will take you.

Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer - by far and away the best book I've ever read on how to break into the magazine writing market.

So after the first year, now what?
Now this is the part where some of you beginning freelance writers might get mad at me. What's the plan for years 2, 3, and 4? A lot of the same for year one, with adjustments made BY YOU, based on what your freelance writing or Internet writing goals are. One part of writing over a year is that it will become very clear:
  1. What type of writing you enjoy most
  2. Which sites are producing the most results
  3. What your strengths are
  4. What your weaknesses are
  5. What your smartest plan of attack will be
Different writers are going to have different strengths and weaknesses. If you only wrote 50 eHow articles, but they make you $200 a month, that's obviously better than 200 hubs that make $30 a month. Part of being a successful online freelance writer is growing in confidence, skills, and ability. And this starts with simply getting started.

If you need more income now, like a job, then Demand Studios will become a bigger part of your arsenal, or maybe Guru.com and Elance. Once you learn to write queries, go ahead and pitch to magazines, trade journals, or other print publications. Your skill level, work ethic, and ability to learn will determine which direction you need to go.

But always remember time is on your side, and if you don't know what to do, repeat the first year, focusing on InfoBarrel, eHow, and HubPages. If you graduate with 1,200 eHow articles, 1,000 InfoBarrel articles, and 1,000 HubPages, there is no way you won't be making an extremely solid (if not full time) passive income. You would have to refuse to learn anything and go out of your way to suck to pull that off.

There are many ways to get there as a full time freelance writer, and I strongly advise all beginning online writers to learn SEO, learn about backlinks, and to use that information to boost all your online pages and articles. That said, in the end writers write.

That's really all there is. If you're just starting out as a college student and you want to make money writing online, follow this guide, learn your craft, and keep working. If you steadily grind away at it, you'll find yourself out of college with one hell of a safety net, and with the ability to say you are a full time freelance writer.

That's it for perhaps the longest freelance writing blog post in history.


  1. Thanks for a brilliant article that really woke me up!

    I am currently writing short stories in tandem with a novel. Trying to place these works can be hit and miss at best. It really had never occurred to me to try online writing for a small (or maybe large) residual income.

    Thanks very much for the pointers.


  2. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the comment, and my strong tip of the hat for actually getting through the whole post, lol! I wonder if there is any list of the longest freelance writing blog posts in history...I'm thinking this one has to at least be in the running. I admire the creative writing - it's my passion as well. As far as where the money goes, developing the passive income I believe is definitely the way to go. Thanks again for commenting!

  3. holy cow, nice content shane! also, thanks for putting me in the blogroll and linkage in post too, that is mighty cool of ya!
    I love the idea of making money writing. Anyone an do it and following these tips should be a wakeup call for many!

  4. Hey Allyn,

    Thanks for the comment, man! Yeah, I think often about "if I only knew this in college" or half the time "if only these resources existed when I went to college," so I get pretty fired up about making sure the information is out there for the young adults willing to look around for it. No problem with the links. Your blog is one of my favorites, and the backlinks teaching is as good as it gets, especially for beginners, so hopefully the juice helps out a little. Thanks again for stopping by!

  5. Kick ass blog post Shane. Your summary of Constant Content is exactly right. If you can pass CC's editor you can be successful online writing and it teaches you to value your writing.

    I'm applying these strategies outside of college, so your post validates that I'm on the right track.

  6. Thanks Jade,

    I agree. If you really want to test how high a market you can write for, send your best stuff to Constant Content. They don't mess around with editing, and if you can get your articles approved there, you can write for the toughest and most stringent of markets.

  7. Wow, thank you so much for your article, it's like you read my mind. I'm currently a sophomore in college and an English Lit. major, and I have been worrying about what I want to do in the future. Freelance writing is really appealing to me, but I was getting discouraged while researching about it with the bombardment of info. This blog post is incredibly motivating (and incredibly well written, might I add).

    I have a question, would certain articles I write for these sites be good to use as writing samples for a resume?

    Sorry, I know you wrote this a while ago.

    Thank you!

  8. Hi Stephanie,

    Never a problem. I love helping out, especially college students. I'm glad you found the information useful, and if you're looking to get started part time, Demand Studios can be a pretty good money maker, especially for part time work. Look into the passive income, as well - down the road you'll be very glad you did.

    As far as your question, good writing is good writing. So if you publish a few articles online that you're very proud of, don't hesitate to use those articles as references. It used to be that online articles were looked down upon compared to print publications, and some places you still get that, but as the influence of the Internet has grown tremendously, I don't think that's a major issue anymore.

    I would definitely highlight the more impressive online articles you've written or online publications that are generally seen as respectable. It's still a very good idea to get some print publication credits (volunteering to cover a story at your college for the town paper is a good way to go, then write something for the school paper, and if you have a killer idea, look up college magazines to see if you can break into that market) to go along with the online credits, and part of building up a good writing resume is knowing how to put the best spin on each one.

    This doesn't mean lie or exaggerate, but if I wrote an article for the newsletter for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor's Union, and that newsletter is printed as being an AFL-CIO publication (because that's who their union is affiliated with), I'm going to have a copy of that letter and mention that I have written for the AFL-CIO. That's a lot more impressive than the University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor's Union. Another example online is a program Demand Studios has with USA Today online: if you can publish a few good articles there, don't hesitate to add a reference to your articles appearing on a USA Today blog or website.

    I hope that answers your question, and please feel free to ask again if you have any more (quickest response will happen if you can find my most recent blog post). If you haven't subscribed, please feel free to: I'll be developing a lot of posts and aides for college students in the short term future.

    If you don't mind me asking, which college and do you have a favorite English work and/or author? I'm preferential to Samuel Johnson, Lord Alfred Tennyson, and the histories and dramas of Shakespeare myself. BTW: if you're into creative writing, bookmark the website Duotrope.com. By far and away the best resource for finding places to send creative writing.

    Thanks for commenting!

  9. I stumbled on this post after doing a random Googling of freelance writer.

    It's just superb.

    I'm a sophomore in high school currently, and I'll be following this guide!

    I'm sure you've heard that eHow is only using DS writers now, so that's out, but I'll be sure to check out the other sites! 1000+ pieces on these sites sounds extremely intimidating, but it's a high goal to shoot for.

    I have a question, though: How would you go about getting the ideas for these articles? I'm stumped by what I can possibly use as topics for all of these.

    Thanks for creating such a useful guide, it's exactly what I needed!

  10. Hi Huan,

    Glad you found this article and found it useful. The biggest potential hurdle you have right now is most affiliate programs and sites I know of require you to be 18 to sign up due to legal pressures/purposes.

    I'm not sure if you can get around this by setting up an LLC with a trusted guardian like a parent and a DBA (doing business as) name for the company, or if you're basically going to have to wait until you're 18. Even if that turns out to be the case, writing and editing articles and saving them (I recommend sending copies to store in your e-mail account in addition to on a computer which should be backed up) until you can use that text to create online articles or pages that can earn you income are other viable options. Nowadays I would tell people to primarily focus on HubPages with InfoBarrel articles and Xomba bookmarks in support, and Constant-Content and maybe Demand Studios for up front cash.

    As for your question about getting ideas, look around for lessons on doing keyword research, but look at your own interests in life. Do you camp? Game? Shoot? Play sports? What hobbies do you have, or have ever been interested in? There are amazing niches in about everything, as a wide range topic like "camping" can deal with everything from snake proof boots to specific hiking gear to travel locations, portable GPS, or fishing gear and tents.

    Always keep your eyes open for other things that are interesting or get your attention. While it's hard at first, the more often you write articles, build sites, and learn all about how online writing and marketing works, the better you'll get at writing online for passive income and the easier coming up with ideas will be.

    Hope that helps. Let me know if there's any other questions you have.


    Master Dayton